The room was dark. Silence finally prevailed after a long day of crying children. My temples throbbed, as I sank to the floor of the dining room and drew my knees to my chest. I wrapped my arms around myself, rocking slightly, as tears streamed down my face. Both children were asleep. My husband was traveling for work. I was alone with the thought that had been swirling in my mind since my second child was born.
I’m a failure.
My sobs were uncontrollable.
There’s something wrong with me. Other women have stayed home with children from the dawn of time. If they can do it, why can’t I? Why is this so hard for me?
The days were a hazy blur of my baby’s acid reflux vomiting and exploding diapers. My toddler threw epic tantrums each time I turned away from him to clean up a mess. I could never get to either child fast enough. Someone was always crying. It was a constant reminder of how miserably I was failing as a parent.
On those rare occasions that both children napped at the same time, I jumped online, desperate for contact with the outside world. Everyone else was having fun. I saw evidence on Facebook — smiling parents with happy children at the park, the zoo, the library, and the museum. Even their pictures were clear. I had hundreds of photographs of my children, but every one of them was blurred.
Nearly one year after I wept on the dining room floor, my husband watched the kids for an evening. I had dinner plans with friends I hadn’t seen in a very long time. One of them asked me how I was doing.
The automatic response “Okay. How are you?” caught in my throat. I gulped, before muttering, “Things aren’t good. Not good at all.”
Startled, she turned in her chair to face me. “What’s wrong?”
My shoulders sagged. I didn’t want to admit my failure, but the truth came tumbling out. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I hung my head in shame. She was one of those Facebook parents I envied. “It’s too hard to stay home with kids all day. I don’t know how you do it, because I feel like I’m drowning.”
“I remember those days.” Her large eyes were sympathetic. I didn’t see the judgment that I was expecting. “Those were dark days. I cried all the time.”
“Really? You?” I was shocked. My friend is one of the most composed people I know. I couldn’t picture her breaking down in tears, even on her worst day.
“Oh, yeah, when the kids were little, it was really hard. But it’s much better now that they’re older.” She placed a hand on my arm. “It will get better for you too.”
My body relaxed as her empathy washed over me, releasing the tension I didn’t know I was feeling. Someone actually understood. “I never knew you felt this way. Why didn’t I know?”
She shrugged. “I never talked about it.”
“But why?” I felt awful for not comforting my friend in her time of need. “Why didn’t we talk about this?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned, shaking her head. “I guess women just don’t talk about these things.”
It was true. We didn’t talk about these things. “But we should.”
So, we did. Over the next year, I reached out and spoke with other mothers, both in person and online. It was surprising to discover how many other “composed” Facebook moms shared my feelings. I wasn’t alone in my tears. I wasn’t alone in my frustration. I wasn’t alone in my sadness.
I wasn’t alone. And knowing that other mothers survived the same difficult path that I was traveling brought me comfort. If they could do it, then so could I.
Two years have passed since that conversation. I still have dark moments when my kids push me to my limit. But it’s better now — so much better. Sometimes, the only light you need on those dark days is knowing that you aren’t alone.
A few months ago, another friend of mine gave birth to her second child. When we spoke on the phone, she admitted that she felt overwhelmed. “I saw your pictures on Facebook. I don’t know how you do it.” The awe in her voice was familiar. I felt it when I looked at my Facebook friends with children.
I studied the rare, clear picture of my kids that had I posted. It was literally 1 out of 500 pictures I had taken at the park. But my kids were both smiling and happy. “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when you’re home with little kids, especially a newborn and a toddler,” I assured her. “I did.”
“Really?” I heard the skepticism in her voice. “But you seem so on top of things all the time.”
“I’m not,” I reassured her, glancing at the dining room. The image of myself crouched in the corner, crying, filled my thoughts. “I’ve been where you are. Those are dark days in motherhood, and they’re hard. But you aren’t alone. It did get better for me. And it will get better for you too.”
If you feel lost in the darkness of motherhood, then I’m speaking to you. The darkness is real, and it’s hard to escape. But you don’t have to do it alone. Reaching out to friends, joining a support group, or seeking professional help are ways to navigate the dark days. I found my light in the darkness, and so can you.